News Sport news WM IA : Hun­gary & Slove­nia advance, Korea relegated

WM IA : Hun­gary & Slove­nia advance, Korea relegated

Enter­ing the final day of the 2024 IIHF World Cham­pi­onship Divi­sion I Group A in Bolzano, Slove­nia had already secured advance­ment but three teams still vied for the sec­ond spot and two had a chance to be rel­e­gat­ed. But with each pass­ing game, more became clear and in the end, Hun­gary will join Slove­nia at next year’s World Cham­pi­onship in Swe­den while Korea will be rel­e­gat­ed to Group B for the first time since 2015.

Roma­nia 4 – Japan 2

After los­ing their first two games by 6 – 1 scores, Roma­nia looked like an obvi­ous can­di­date for rel­e­ga­tion, but three wins lat­er and they skat­ed off the ice after their last game against Japan with still a faint hope to advance to the elite group. That didn’t end up hap­pen­ing, but it was a remark­able turn­around nonetheless.

“I don’t think many peo­ple believed in us,” said Roman­ian cap­tain Rober­to Gli­ga. “It’s cer­tain­ly a big, big sur­prise, I think every­one can agree on that. I think it’s clear we sur­passed our expectations.”

Gli­ga scored the game’s first goal, putting a nice mid-air deflec­tion on a shot from Yev­geni Skachkov at 4:26. Then the two teams trad­ed goals late in the first peri­od. Sota Iso­gai tied it for Japan when he cir­cled the net and his cen­tring pass attempt hit a Roman­ian skate and went in, but Skachkov got that goal back just 18 sec­onds lat­er, putting a nice fin­ish­ing touch on a feed from Huba Bors.

Japan tried to push back in the sec­ond peri­od but Roma­nia scored the only goal to go up 3 – 1 on a nice rush into the zone, with Szi­lard Rokaly putting a nice back­hand deke on Yuta Nar­i­sawa to fin­ish it off. Down by two goals, the Japan­ese emp­tied the tank in the third peri­od, out­shoot­ing Roma­nia 15 – 2 but Zoltan Toke was bril­liant. Yu Sato scord on a rebound with 3:38 to play to make it a one-goal game, but Matias Haara­nen iced the vic­to­ry for Roma­nia with a late empty-netter.

“I liked how hard we com­pet­ed,” said Japan­ese coach Jar­rod Skalde. “We want­ed to come out skat­ing but every time we grabbed momen­tum, they seemed to score. We had to keep fight­ing to get the momen­tum back but, over­all, I liked our com­pete and how we skat­ed today.”

The loss left Japan with a razor-thin one-point lead on Korea in the race to avoid rel­e­ga­tion. Look­ing ahead to the next game, Skalde said: “I’ve nev­er been such a fan of Italy in my life.”

Italy 8 – Korea 1

As it turned out, Skalde and the Japan­ese team didn’t have to sweat it out very long, as Italy struck ear­ly and often to lead 4 – 0 after one peri­od, ulti­mate­ly cruis­ing to a 8 – 1 win.

“I think we played real­ly well today,” said Ital­ian goal­tender Dami­an Clara. “The boys did an awe­some job get­ting some ear­ly goals and they helped me out a lot. We maybe played a lit­tle bit slow­er in the sec­ond peri­od but we didn’t take it for grant­ed and came back in the third.”

Luca Fri­go opened the scor­ing just 21 sec­onds in, pick­ing the top cor­ner over Jung Ho Ha’s glove from the top of the cir­cle. The Kore­ans thought they’d tied it 37 sec­onds lat­er when they drove to the net and Shang­hoon Shin forced the puck over the goal line, but Italy chal­lenged the play, claim­ing the puck was played into the net by a hand, which was upheld. The Ital­ians went back to work and Daniel Man­tenu­to, Diego Kost­ner on the pow­er play and Daniel Frank scored before the open­ing frame was over.

“We are very dis­ap­point­ed because a lot of us have been in Group A for a long time now,” said Kore­an cap­tain Sang­wook Kim. “We played in the top divi­sion and we want­ed to go back. We’ve got a lot of young kids who will get some good expe­ri­ence in I‑B and hope­ful­ly, next year we get a promotion.”

After hav­ing an ear­li­er goal dis­al­lowed, Shin got Korea on the board for real ear­ly in the sec­ond peri­od by one-tim­ing a pass from Hee­doo Nam. That seemed to ignite the Kore­ans, who car­ried the play for much of the sec­ond peri­od. How­ev­er, that momen­tum was halt­ed in the last minute of the peri­od when, dur­ing a scrum, Sangyeob Kim was giv­en a major penal­ty for head-butting and eject­ed from the game.

On the ensu­ing five-minute pow­er play ear­ly in the third peri­od, Italy scored four times to turn the game into a rout. And with that, the stakes became clear for the final game of the tour­na­ment. Slove­nia had already advanced, and Hun­gary would join them with a win. If Slove­nia won, Italy would be the sec­ond team.

“I guess we all love Slove­nia for the rest of the day,” Clara smiled.

Hun­gary 2 – Slove­nia 1

Even with­out the host team play­ing there was a buzz in the build­ing for the last game as it had huge impli­ca­tions for Italy. The Ital­ian fans joined forces with the trav­el­ling Sloven­ian fans in town, although both were drowned out at times by the Hun­gar­i­an contingent. 

Hun­gary scored the only goal of an even­ly-played first peri­od. Just past the sev­en-minute mark, Ist­van Ter­bocs cen­tred for Janos Hari, who made no mis­take from the slot. Ear­ly in the sec­ond peri­od, Hari got a break­away with a chance to make it 2 – 0 but slid the puck just wide of the post. Two min­utes lat­er, Slove­nia tied on a tremen­dous play by Rok Ticar, who kept pos­ses­sion of the puck while being tripped, and from his knees swept the puck with his stick flat on the ice toward the net and through Bence Bal­izs’ legs.

Five min­utes into the third peri­od, Slove­nia had a great chance on a 2‑on‑1 but Ziga Mehle hit the shoul­der of the slid­ing Bal­izs and then slammed his stick on the ice in frustration.

But after the Slovenes had held an edge in play for most of the night, they ran into penal­ty trou­ble in the third peri­od and with 2:51 to go, the Hun­gar­i­ans final­ly broke through with the win­ning goal. Bal­asz Var­ga took the ini­tial shot and Kristof Papp was there to put in the rebound. With not much time left, Slove­nia tried to reply and pulled Gasper Kroselj for an extra attack­er, but to no avail.

“This was the tough­est game, I’d say,” said Hun­gar­i­an for­ward Ist­van Ter­bocs. “This one and the Ital­ian game, with the emo­tion and the speed. These teams had a lot of scor­ing chances and we’re lucky we have an out­stand­ing goalie. We had real­ly good goal­tend­ing again tonight; that’s what gave us the chance to win this game.”

“We’re hap­py to be going up but at the same time, we’re kin­da dis­ap­point­ed because we were bet­ter the whole game today,” said Sloven­ian defend­er Bine Masic. “We want­ed to win this tour­na­ment, but still, we’re going to the top so that’s good.”

With the reg­u­la­tion vic­to­ry, Hun­gary claims gold, Slove­nia takes sil­ver and bronze goes to host Italy. The Top Goal­keep­er was Gasper Kroselj of Slove­nia, the Top Defend­er was Thomas Larkin of Italy and the Top For­ward was Rok Ticar of Slove­nia. The top scor­er with six points was Janos Hari of Hungary.